World’s longest rail tunnel to close for months

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An Italian train makes its way at the north entrance of the new Gotthard Base Tunnel, the world’s longest train tunnel, on the eve of its opening ceremony on May 31, 2016 in Erstfeld.

Fabrice Coffrini | Afp | Getty Images

Swiss rail authorities said repairs to the Gotthard Base Tunnel, the world’s deepest traffic tunnel and longest of its kind, will take several months after the extent of the damage from a recent freight service derailment was found to be “significantly greater” than initially estimated.

National railway operator SBB said Wednesday that 16 cars had jumped the tracks in last Thursday’s derailment and some badly damaged freight cars remain stuck inside the 57.1 kilometer (35.5 mile) long tunnel.

No one was injured in the accident, but investigations have since shown that the damage in the west tube was considerable. The SBB estimated it will take several months to replace all the damaged parts of the railway system.

The operator currently assumes that both tunnel tubes will be available again for all rail traffic “to a limited extent” at the beginning of next year, while the undamaged east tunnel tube should be able to operate from Aug. 23 for freight traffic.

It means that rail passengers traveling between north and southernmost Switzerland will be forced to take a more scenic route over the coming months.

The Gotthard Base Tunnel is a high-speed railway route through the Swiss Alps. The project, which opened to enormous fanfare in 2016, took 17 years to complete and cost an estimated $12 billion.

Recognized as a feat of engineering and hailed as a “huge achievement,” the GBT is a vital thoroughfare for goods and cargo. The tunnel was created to increase local transport capacity through the Alpine barrier, ease road traffic and reduce air pollution.

“The Gotthard Base Tunnel is one of the safest in the world. The fact that such an accident could still happen hits us hard. Luckily there were no injuries, but there was a lot of property damage,” SBB CEO Vincent Ducrot told reporters on Wednesday, according to a Google translation.

“We would like to apologize for this and ask for your understanding,” Ducrot said. “The teams deployed are doing everything they can to ensure that safe rail traffic through the Gotthard Base Tunnel is possible again as quickly as possible.”

The SBB said it was aware the effects of the incident would cause “great inconvenience” for rail passengers and freight customers.

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